Ex-PNE director Paul is winning again after being shown the red card
By the age of 40 Paul Newsham had everything he wanted from life.
As a director of Preston North End, a successful managing partner in a national group of accountants and the chairman of the Sir Tom Finney Foundation, he was living the dream.
But his whole world came crashing down when a company he audited came under suspicion from the Serious Fraud Office.
In the chaos that followed Paul lost everything. He was struck off as a chartered accountant, dropped “like a stone” by the group and forced to stand down from the football club.
He suffered bouts of depression and the trauma had a serious impact on his family life.
Today, at the age of 53, Paul has bounced back in spectacular fashion. He has been re-admitted to the profession after being declared a fit and proper person to practice again.
His new-look accountancy business RfM+more is booming - it has tripled in size in less than four years - and he is fit and healthy again.
“The last few years haven’t been the easiest,” he tells me over a coffee in his office in Leyland.
“If you’ve had almost everything you wanted to achieve in life taken away from you – even though you’d followed company procedures to the letter – it’s bound to hurt. But I’ve parked it now and moved on.
“When you’re faced with such a situation you have two choices - you can either give in or you can fight back. I decided to fight back.”
Paul accepts life was as sweet as it gets before the financial tsunami struck him in 2008. He had a “comfortable” lifestyle in the UK and holiday homes abroad.
“Before I was 40 I had reached all my initial aspirations about what I wanted to achieve and where I wanted to get to,” he said. “Life was treating me very well.
“But then the issue which led to my suspension, or the removal of my ability to practice as a chartered accountant, suddenly happened.
“It was to do with a client who floated on the Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market. That client was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in 2008. As a result I was pulled in because I had signed off the audit prior to flotation.
“My work was investigated by the Financial Reporting Council. They came to the conclusion that there were some failings in it - even though it had been reviewed by three other professionals - and so they decided there was a case for me to be disciplined.
“I fully accepted responsibility for my bit in what happened and I took the consequences.”
It took four years for the Serious Fraud Office to decide there was no case for the client company to answer and dropped their investigation.
But Paul had to endure another two agonising years before he was told by the FRC he would still face disciplinary action.
He was stripped of his certificate to practice as a chartered accountant for three years in 2014 - six years after the probe had begun.
“As a result I had to stand down from the board of PNE and resign from the Sir Tom Finney Foundation,” he recalls. “I lost my position on the board of the large accountancy group which my practice was a part of and I was asked to leave.
“Banking institutions pulled in loans as a result, which left me in a position which was almost the total opposite from where I had been before my 40th birthday.
“Basically everything I had aspired to had been taken away from me. As a consequence, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, it did lead to me having some bouts of depression and mental illness, which I have now recovered from.
“Being under investigation for, in effect, six years was tough. I was wearing a mask in front of clients as if everything was normal. But inside it was affecting me badly. I’m convinced that maintaining that front to the outside world caused my depression.
“It was a very difficult time and it seriously impacted on my family life and me personally. It changed me as a person.
“A good analogy is that when I was 38 my mind was like a perfect wine glass which was then broken due to pressure and stress and, despite how well you try to put it back together, it will never quite be the same as it was before.
“I can now identify the same in other people and I always make the time to listen and help if I can. When things like that happen you also discover a bit more about people. Those who you expect to help maybe don’t help and some who you don’t think will, actually do.
“I’m proud to say that not one of my clients at that time left the practice. They didn’t turn their backs on me and I’m very appreciative of the support I got from so many people.
“But there are always other people who are prepared to drop you, some of them professionals who are happy to use a situation like that to their advantage.”
Although the suspension was for three years, it took Paul a further 12 months to get back his practice certificate. He was re-appointed in December and can now call himself a chartered accountant again.
In the interim he has worked behind the scenes as a consultant for the RfM+more accountancy firm, successfully building up the business from where it was four years earlier.
“I have helped RfM grow from what was a two office practice to now having six offices within the North West and a presence in London, basically tripling it both in turnover and in staff and adding on services like grants, banking, R&D and consultancy, as well as developing a corporate finance arm to help clients buy and sell businesses.
"My company was part of a large national group. As soon as this happened I was asked to leave the group. It is times like that when you find out who your true friends are. We haven’t spoken since.
“At that time I could quite easily have given up and become bankrupt. But that would have been defeatist and anyone who knows me knows I’m not like that. My attitude was ‘I’ll fight this and recover from it.’
“The last four years have been a life experience which will never leave me. You can either be bitter, or you can draw on that experience and use it to your benefit.
“I have now got my personal integrity back and that is a building block for the future.”
Losing his seat on the PNE board was a huge blow for Paul who had served as a non-executive director since 2004. He is now a director at Hyde United in non-league football.
“I don’t go to Preston games as often as I used to,” he says. “It’s a part of my life that I really miss. When you are involved with something which is so close to your heart you’re bound the feel it.
“I was heavily involved in the youth development side because I felt it was a very important part of the club and the community.
“Stepping down was one of the biggest body blows of what happened to me. It was the part of my life which was most in the public domain, so it had a massive impact. I even made the front page of the LEP!
“When your face is on the front page you can’t walk into a public place without thinking everyone is looking at you and commenting. They probably weren’t. But that took me quite a while to get over.
“But from now on my reputation can only get better. Being back as a qualified accountant is a huge yoke lifted off my shoulders. I’m feeling positive again.
“It also taught me an awful lot about life and an awful lot about people. I had some terrific support through all those dark days - and there were a lot of them. I can’t thank those wonderful people enough.”